Learn how monkeys do when tasks with gambling and what this says about people and the ways that they gamble. Learn about online casino playing in this way.
Introduction to Monkey Gambling Research
It’s no surprise to hear that scientists enjoy using monkeys to see how people will react to certain things. They give the monkeys certain stimulation and see how they react and interact to these stimuli. And then they can extrapolate from this idea how the people would react under similar circumstances. What is unusual in this type of research, however, is that a number of scientists, in different settings, have taken on this research as it relates to gambling. And the findings in various studies have certainly been fascinating.
University of Rochester
One study undertaken at the University of Rochester by Tommy Blanchard, a doctoral candidate in brain and cognitive science, and his team, has shed light on monkeys and gambling. They found that monkeys and therefore people believe in the idea of a streak even if they don’t have any evidence that shows them that there is such a thing. For further reading, their study, by Benjamin Hayden, Tommy Blanchard, and Andreas Wilke, an assistant professor of psychology at Clarkson University, is reported in the July issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition.[Source]
The team knew that it needed to create a task that would be able to see if the monkeys believed in a streak without any evidence of there truly being one. They had the monkeys select between right and left to receive a reward. They would get the reward if they guessed the correct answer. There were three types of play that the monkeys had. Two had clear patterns so the right answer often repeated on one side. The third task was just picked in a random way and was based on luck. The researchers were tasked with making the game engaging enough that the monkeys would want to keep playing. There were three rhesus monkeys in total and their results were fascinating.
We Believe in Streaks
The monkeys were fast at figuring out when there was a pattern and going with the pattern. The interesting part, however, was to see what they did when there was a random task. They continued to make choices that showed that they were expecting a streak to appear. They would favor one side, for instance, even if they were shown evidence again and again that there wasn’t a pattern. This hot-hand bias continued for weeks with an average of 1244 trails for each condition. As Blanchard summarized, “They had lots and lots of opportunities to get over this bias, to learn and change, and yet they continued to show the same tendency.”
While no one understands exactly what it is human nature (and monkey nature) to look for patterns, there are certainly many theories. One theory that these researchers had is that the food in the wild acts this way. While the monkeys are looking under certain rocks, they will encounter the worms that they want over and over again. They can then assume that they have found a streak and that they will have the food they want in the same location again. Co-author Benjamin Hayden saw another theory. He explained that we want to see patterns in the world. He said that this may be why “we like to do crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and things like that. If there’s a pattern there, we’re on top of it. And if there may or may not be a pattern there, that’s even more interesting.”
This may explain why the stock market is so appealing to people, as they want to see patterns and hope they are having a streak. This hot-hand bias could help psychologist and psychiatrists to make treatment plans for gambling addiction. It can also offer insights about investors and financial planners and how they approach their jobs and tasks. The results can also help us to look at how we make decisions. Most of us like to think that we make decisions based on research and thought. It’s possible, however, that we have many biases in how we come to our decisions and that we have false predictions in the patterns that we assume we see. As Blanchard said, “We often like to think we make decisions based only on the information we’re conscious of. But we’re not always aware of why we make certain decisions or believe certain things.”
Potential Wins Make Us Happy
In another study at the Yale New Haven Hospital, researchers looked at seven capuchin monkeys to see how they would react to using money. The researchers included Keith Chen, a Yale economist, and Laurie Santos, a psychologist. They spent a great deal of time helping the monkeys to understand what money is. They had a silver disc that they introduced to the monkeys repeatedly as being worth something. Eventually, the monkeys caught on and started to understand that they could trade these discs for things that they wanted like food. Each monkey was then given 12 tokens and the experiment began.
The monkeys were soon buying grapes and cucumbers with their coins. They even came to understand that if the price of the grapes went down and the price of the cucumbers went up, they could get more grapes for their money. Once the monkeys were comfortable with the use of money for food, they started to look at gambling. First, the monkeys were given one grape and either got to keep it depending on how the coin flip went, or they won a bonus grape. In the next game, the monkeys started with a bonus grape and either kept the two or lost one. These are actually the exact same games, but the question was to see if the monkeys found it more psychologically appealing to play one version or another.
People and Monkeys React in a Similar Way
The monkeys showed that they were much more comfortable playing the game that had the potential win instead of the one that showed the loss. This is not what economic textbooks explain. They say that people would treat both games in the same way – but the monkeys did not show this to be the case. Just as the monkeys preferred the game that started with a win, researchers have found that people make a similar decision. This is called loss aversion and we see if in gambling for people at the online casino with online pokies and other games – just as it was shown in gambling for monkeys. Chen took it even one step further as he said, this data can ”make them statistically indistinguishable from most stock-market investors.” [ Source ]
A final study looked at how monkeys approach and avoid risk. Michael Platt Ph.D. and Allison McCoy from the Duke University Medical Center, looked at two male rhesus macaque monkeys and offered them a way to gamble to get a juice reward. Their findings were published in the advanced online version of Nature Neuroscience in August of 2005. The monkeys looked at one of two target lights on a screen. If they looked at the safe one then they got the same fruit juice reward each time that they played. If they looked at the risky light then they would get an unpredictable amount of juice. Sometimes they would get a lot and sometimes it would be a small amount. The average amount, however, was the same no matter which light they went for. [ Source ]
The researchers were quite shocked to see that the monkeys preferred the risky light to the safe one. As Platt said, “There was no rational reason why monkeys might prefer one of these options over the other because, according to the theory of expected value, they’re identical.”
Worried that the monkeys might be going for the risky light because the experiment was boring, they made the task more interesting, but the monkeys still preferred that one. He said, “Basically these monkeys really liked to gamble. There was something intrinsically rewarding about choosing a target that offered a variable juice reward, as if the variability in rewards that they experienced was in itself rewarding.”
Their findings are a fascinating look at the choices that we make. Do we select to make risky choices just because they are risky and more fun? Is the risk itself the thing that we are seeing? The researchers even set it up so that if there were many rounds where the monkeys got almost no juice in the risky section, they still chose to stay with the risk section. They were more attached to the excitement and the idea of maybe winning than they were to the actual result they were going to get.
The research from these three studies certainly gives food for thoughts to researchers, gambling experts, psychologists and many others. How do we approach our decisions? How do we approach certain tasks and important decisions? Do we simply do things because of the excitement and anticipation rather than the reward? Do we look for patterns in the way that we approach gambling and decision making, even when there aren’t patterns to be found? These are a few of the fascinating questions that these studies raise. Certainly, there will be more in the future to help to uncover more answers to these questions.